How to Find Your Best Horse – 7 Strategies for Horse Buyers

Most people acquire a horse by buying one. The process often involves hours on the phone, scrolling the internet, and viewing videos. The goal is to find the best possible horse for whatever purpose you have in mind, and there can be many pitfalls. The purchase price of a horse is in many ways the cheapest part of owning one. If you end up with a horse that’s unsuitable or unusable to you, you’re suddenly in the horse sales business. Below I offer seven strategies to help you find your dream horse.

  1. Get help (and listen when advice is offered). Enlist a knowledgeable friend or family member and a professional to go through the process with you. If you don’t have a regular trainer, hire one you respect to help with your horse search. Write down what you want, what you don’t want, and the realities of your riding abilities. Then, ask your friend and trainer to help keep you on track.
  2. Feel the love, but don’t get swept off your feet. We fall in love with horses for all kinds of reasons. Perhaps it’s their color, size, or rarity. Perhaps it’s because they can move faster, jump higher, or extend better than any horse we’ve ever seen, or it’s those Olympic gold medal bloodlines, or maybe it’s just that pretty face.

It’s common to see a talented horse and want to buy it. But talent is much less important than whether the horse is a good fit for you. If the horse is more athletic than you are capable of riding, or greener than you’re capable of training, progress in your chosen discipline will be slower than on a horse whose talent who suits your abilities.

Another general rule is buy a horse that looks a bit like you. Tall and leggy riders need tall and leggy horses and the opposite is also true. Don’t discount the comfort you feel when you try out a horse.

  1. Sales barns are convenient but expensive. Looking for a horse at a sales barn gives you the opportunity to look at and try a number of horses in the same place. Reputable sales barns can make the process of buying a horse go much faster and easier than trying to find a horse on your own.

Many people involved in horse sales have a good eye for what makes a good match and can steer you towards it, but there’s a lot of markup on the horse’s price when someone consigns a horse to a sales barn. The goal of a sales barn is to make money on the sale of horses and to move them along as quickly as possible, whereas buying a horse directly from his owner might involve less pressure and a lower price.

  1. Spread the word among local equine professionals. In my experience many of the best matches of horse and rider happen before a horse ever goes on the market. Perhaps a veterinarian knows a really nice horse whose owner is thinking about selling but hasn’t had the energy to begin the process. Farriers are also great people to contact as they know a lot of horses, know something of their behavior, and are experts on that horse’s feet. Of course, trainers are also good people to contact. Also, if you know of someone who has a horse you’ve always loved, ask them if they would consider selling; you might just luck out.


  1. Be wary of videos. The age of video and the internet have brought wonderful convenience to horse-buying searches, but I caution you against buying a horse from video alone. Sellers who are good with photography and videography can truly make silk purses out of sows’ ears. Viewing horses online is a great way to weed out the ones you’re not interested in, but it’s essential you see the horse in person, and, in the case of a riding horse, you must ride it—preferably more than once.


  1. Get a veterinary inspection. Always have a good equine veterinarian look at the horse before you write a check. Regardless of whether it’s a breeding horse, riding horse, or a prospect, if there are serious health issues you’ll either be unable to use the horse as intended or have ongoing veterinary/medical bills that can be frustrating as well as expensive.


  1. Don’t get hung up on perfection. If you’re waiting for the perfect horse, you’ll be waiting a long time. There’s no such thing as a perfect horse. They all spook, trip, and fall in love with other horses. They all have something physical that needs attending to. But that imperfection is one of the reasons we love them, and it’s an opportunity for us to grow and learn. If you want something perfect, you want a machine, not a horse.


See this article in the January/February 2022 online edition:

January 2022


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